Performing Arts

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

(Soundbite of music)

One morning, this week, at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, D.C., dancers from Britain's Royal Ballet leapt and pirouetted across the floor, honing their technique for a series of performances.

(Soundbite of a piano and dancers' steps)

RAZ: Those performances included the last U.S. appearance by superstar ballerina, Alexandra Ansanelli. She is the American who made it to the top of the Royal Ballet after a decade with the New York City Ballet. But at the ripe, old age of 28, Ansanelli stunned the ballet world by announcing she's hanging up her slippers.

The morning after she took her final bow in this country, I asked Alexandra Ansanelli why she's walking away at the height of an extraordinary career. She answered simply…

Ms. ALEXANDRA ANSANELLI (Principal Dancer, Royal Ballet): I feel it's my time.

RAZ: How do you know?

Ms. ANSANELLI: I thought about it awhile. I've been involved professionally for 13 years, intensely. But at the same time, I feel like there's so much to experience still.

RAZ: I've read that you likened the ballet, or your relationship to the ballet, to a marriage. So, this is…

Ms. ANSANELLI: Yes.

RAZ: …almost like a divorce.

Ms. ANSANELLI: It is. It is a divorce. For such a long time, I felt actually guilty to feel this way, like I've been cheating, so to speak, in my marriage. But I really have lived this career in many ways to the fullest. So, I feel peaceful about that.

RAZ: Talk to me about persevering in the ballet. You were born with scoliosis, right?

Ms. ANSANELLI: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: And for years, you actually wore a brace at night to correct the curvature of your spine.

Ms. ANSANELLI: And day.

RAZ: And day.

Ms. ANSANELLI: Yeah, whenever I wasn't dancing.

RAZ: But you continued to do this. I mean - and it takes a physical toll on your body.

Ms. ANSANELLI: Mm. Dancing? Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ANSANELLI: Yeah, it does. It's not only trying to make yourself straight, but then going beyond the limits, the boundaries of normalcy.

RAZ: And of course, eventually, you were made a principal dancer…

Ms. ANSANELLI: I was.

RAZ: …at the Royal Ballet.

Ms. ANSANELLI: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: You faced some skeptical critics for quite a long time.

Ms. ANSANELLI: Mm-hmm, yes.

RAZ: How did that affect you?

Ms. ANSANELLI: I tried to learn from the critics. I tried to see where they were coming from. When I went to the Royal, there was a certain tentativeness that kind of crept up, and that's why many of the roles I've danced right before retiring, everyone has been just kind of astonished at how different I've been dancing, because I've been able to let go again.

RAZ: Mm-hmm. So, you've made this decision now.

Ms. ANSANELLI: Yeah.

RAZ: And you seem totally at peace with it.

Ms. ANSANELLI: Yeah.

RAZ: What if you regret it?

Ms. ANSANELLI: Tough.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Is there a chance that you might?

Ms. ANSANELLI: Yeah. Sure, of course, yeah. There are going to be things I know I'll miss. But that's just part of having memories, I guess.

RAZ: That's ballerina Alexandra Ansanelli. Her final performance with the Royal Ballet will be in Havana, Cuba, next month. To see photos of her dance, go to our Web site, npr.org.

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